What is 'Cloud' Server Hosting?



Cloud Technology


Cloud computing (cloud technology) is a metaphor used by Technology or IT Services companies for the delivery of computing requirements as a service to a heterogeneous community of end-recipients. The term cloud theoretically signifies abstraction of technology, resources and its location that are very vital in building integrated computing infrastructure (including networks, systems and applications). All Cloud computing models rely heavily on sharing of resources to achieve coherence and economies of scale similar to a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet).


Cloud computing entrusts services (typically centralized) with a user's data, software and computation on a published application programming interface (API) over a network. It has considerable overlap with software as a service (SaaS).


End users access cloud based applications through a web browser or a light weight desktop or mobile app while the business software and data are stored on servers at a remote location. Cloud application providers strive to give the same or better service and performance than if the software programs were installed locally on end-user computers.


At the foundation of cloud computing is the broader concept of infrastructure convergence (or converged infrastructure) and shared services. This type of data centre environment allows enterprises to get their applications up and running faster, with easier manageability and less maintenance, and enables IT to more rapidly adjust IT resources (such as servers, storage, and networking) to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand.


Cloud Computing Examples


Applied to computing the word ‘cloud’ is highly ambiguous. Type ‘The Cloud’ into Google and you will get a mix of results that include; providers of public access Wi-Fi hotspots, hosting companies offering a form of virtualized hosting and providers of Cloud Computing which generally means location-independent computing or is sometimes referred to as ‘software as a service’ (e.g. Microsoft Azure or Google Docs.) What this boils down to is that the term ‘Cloud’ is used as a variety of metaphors for ‘the internet’ and location-independent IT services.


Cloud Hosting


Shared hosting has been around for a long time. More recently we’ve seen the coming of age of ‘virtualization’ technology. This freed up computers, which had traditionally only been able to run a single instance of an operating system or computing environment, to be able to run virtual machines instead. Suddenly this created an opportunity for the hosting companies to charge clients on a per-usage basis and virtualization has since become part of an overall trend in hosting and corporate IT.


An older concept of ‘grid computing’ was brought to life through the use of virtualization. An operating system could exist across many servers instead of one. The client only pays for the resources he uses while also getting the benefit of huge scaleability that was never really available to the masses before virtualization came along. Applications could now tap into the resources of a whole network of hardware instead of a single machine.


For hosting companies there was another benefit. At enterprise level there has been a tradition of over-selling hosting services. Companies were being sold powerful dedicated servers yet more often than not they were only using a fraction of the resources available to them. I suspect that this was, for a long time, a source of irritation to the enterprise level hosting companies. They would have looked at all these unused resources and seen a missed opportunity. Cloud computing was the solution. Clients pay for exactly what they use. No more wasted resources. Everyone wins.



Cloud Computing


Essentially, Cloud computing is any form of location-independent computing. Since the mid-eighties we’ve become used to working with ever more powerful personal computers on which we install software such as word processors or email clients. This represented a significant change from the previous decade when mainframe computing dominated the corporate environment. Since the mid-nineties we’ve enjoyed the benefits of the Internet and we’ve been able to stay connected while moving around more freely. When broadband was introduced it created the possibility of moving significant chunks of IT online. Online trading became a reality, Ecommerce was born and email took over as the dominant form of corporate communication. Companies empowered their staff by moving data centres (e.g. customer databases) online and allowing them access to this information from anywhere provided they had an Internet connection. Everything from stock control to customer service was streamlined and web-enabled. But certain computing services were more stubborn such as word processing. These stayed on the local machine until cloud computing came along. Now, even word processors can be accessed online. Google offers it’s own web-based equivalent of Microsoft Office free of charge – it is called Google Docs. Microsoft is pursuing its paid for model and offering its Office suite and more, as a web-based Cloud-computing service.


So, what could you migrate to the Cloud? Almost all of your IT functions / infrastructure can be externally hosted these days, and therefore all of your IT can potentially be moved to the Cloud. This includes almost all of the software your business relies on, although I must point out that one company – Sage – and its popular accounting software is probably proving the bottle neck for getting all IT onto a hosted environment. Almost every other IT function can be moved out of the office and onto an external hosted environment. With the Cloud you get pricing that makes this an investment worth considering. Especially in today’s difficult economic environment. So, here’s a (by no means complete) list of the commonly used IT services that can move to either Cloud hosting or Cloud computing…


  • All types of websites (CRM, eCommerce, blogs, social networks etc.)
  • Email communication services.
  • All types of web-enabled databases (e.g. your customer database.)
  • Business management software.
  • Office software (word processors etc.)
  • File storage.
  • Media sharing (images, videos, music etc.)



What Benefits Does the Cloud Offer?



Many of the services we use such as Google Docs are even free, and as a company we now use Google Docs more than we use Microsoft Office. If you’ve ever wanted to collaborate on a spreadsheet it is indeed a revolution! We’ve got websites hosted on ‘The Cloud’ and we’re huge fans of companies like 37-Signals who provide brilliant software as a service (SAAS) such as Basecamp for project management or Highrise for our CRM. Services in the ‘Cloud’ seem to share another benefit – they can be set up very quickly. No more waiting for servers to be commissioned or software to be installed and configured. And the configuration can also be changed quickly and with no down-time. For example, when we’re working on cloud servers we often ramp up the RAM, dropping it back to the original setting when the work is finished. This is a big win in today’s fast moving business environment.



Migrating to the Cloud



We’ve carried out many migrations to the various types of cloud for our clients, giving us an unrivaled wealth of expertise in this area. As with the many uses of the term ‘cloud’ there are also many ways of migrating to the cloud and it would be misleading to give the impression that all your IT functions can be migrated as part of a single process.


As a business using the cloud, our process of migrating to the cloud was actually a variety of processes, carried out independently of each other over the course of 2 to 3 years. Different aspects of the business required different solutions and the migration process was unique for each. And we use a variety of providers.



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